The governing Saskatchewan Party says it is on pace to balance its books by next year, and is forecasting a modest surplus of $6 million for 2019-20.
The deficit this year is projected to be $365 million. The government says it is seeing higher than expected revenues. Eighty million from last year is attributed to non-renewable resources and other own-source revenues.
Taxation revenues are estimated to be lower on both the individual and corporate taxes, which will be offset by higher revenues from a provincial sales tax. Most taxes will remain unchanged, but the province is broadening consumptions on the PST. It does not have an estimate yet of the revenues from legalized marijuana, but intends to return 25 per cent to the federal government.
Revenue is forecasted this year at $14.24 billion. While revenues are up, government spending is down. There’s savings of $70 million over two years thanks to efficiencies in the bureaucracy, such as overtime and vacancy management control.
Finance Minister Donna Harpaurer calls the budget an “on track” document to returning the books to the black, with cautious investments and saving internally. She says while the government is bringing down the deficit, Saskatchewan’s economy should start to rebound.
“Our government’s financial plan is on track to return Saskatchewan to balance with a steady improving outlook over the next four years,” she said.
The revenue growth is projected to increase 3.6 per cent in 2019, 2.4 per cent in 2020 and 2.7 per cent in 2021. The added revenue will lead to increased government expenditures over that time span.
A top-spending priority identified is in health. A total of $5.77 billion is dedicated to health, which is up $133 million from last year. Over $11 million in new money from both Ottawa and the province will go to mental health services.
A total of $4.67 million is earmarked for new child and adolescent specialists to reduce wait times, increase capacity for diagnosis, treatment and to improve services and supports for children, youth and families. That money will expand suicide prevention efforts, and will help train doctors to better assess and treat children and youth with mental health conditions.
The government is planning to use $5.24 million to hire 40 FTE’s to develop recovery teams in eight communities to provide support to individuals with complex and persistent mental health illness.
Harpaurer says the record investments into health will be used to help support access to mental health services.
“Targeted funding in this budget will improve access to mental health, palliative care and community-based primary health care services,” she said.
Suppressing forest fires or the prevention of new starts is of great concern to the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation communities, as they were impacted by an intense fire season in 2017. Overall wildfire management will be down $6.1 million from last year. The major savings will come from forest fire capital projects. In 2017, $13.472 million was allocated, this year, that’s down to $6.945 million.
For Saskatchewan’s Indigenous community, allocations for First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs will be up $1.1 million, the Métis Development Fund increased $1.14 million, but the First Nations gaming agreement will drop $2.6 million. This is due to lower than expected casino revenue forecasts. Overall, First Nations and Métis transfers will see a decrease of $3.1 million. Indigenous Services will not see cuts this year. Northern revenue sharing is also going down $1.3 million, with rural municipalities down $4.7 million.
In response to a joint task force on improving education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Métis People, $5.1 million will be invested, with $2.6 million to continue the Invitational Shared Services Initiative. A total of $1.6 million will go toward a program to help First Nations and Métis student achievement.
The PST exemption for light vehicles is being removed effective April 11. However, on a trade-in value of vehicles, the difference in purchase price will see PST paid. Gifting vehicles to qualified family members, spouses, parents, legal guardians and children, among others will be PST exempt. The private sale of used vehicles purchased under $5000 will not see the tax applied.
Energy Star appliances will now have a provincial sales tax, with the finance department saying these types of appliances are very common in many households and no longer need further incentives, as they already provide relief to energy bills.
The Opposition NDP was quick to slam the budget, with Finance Critic Cathy Sproule saying residents are in for more mismanagement of the economy, a lack of long-term vision and more fees, pointing to the PST on vehicles.
“This budget shows that in just two years, families saw a 60 per cent increase in the sales tax they owe and a ten per cent increase in their electricity bills,” she said.
Sproule says the NDP was hoping the government would restore the $54 million in cuts to education from last year. She says the bottom line is that the residents are the ones who will be paying for this from this budget.
“I don’t think there’s any hope for Saskatchewan families in this budget. What we see is a lot of the fees increase,” she said.
REACTION STARTING TO COME IN
An organization that lobbies for northern municipalities says the budget is a bit of a mixed bag for northerners.
New North Board Chair Bruce Fidler says while these are just initial observations there were a few things that caught his eye.
He says he was glad to see investments in northern highways but was disappointed to see a dip in revenue sharing for municipalities.
“We knew the PST was down, so we knew that revenue sharing was most likely going to be down as well,” Fidler told MBC News. “However, municipalities rely on this revenue sharing and in the north, it is extremely important.”
Revenue Sharing dropped to $18 million, a dip of approximately 6.5 per cent from last year’s budget.
“There are going to be some effects, but hopefully we can minimize those and carry-on day-to-day,” said Fidler, who is also the mayor of Creighton.
$61 million will be dedicated for northern highways with work scheduled on Highway 155 north of Green Lake and Highway 123 into Cumberland House.
“These roads are in really bad shape and these are really good projects, but unfortunately there is still a lot of work needed,” said the New North Board Chair.
Fidler was also glad to see a mining exploration incentive program that he hopes will benefit communities like Creighton and Denare Beach.
The northern mayor says there are still a lot of numbers to go through and he hopes to have a better handle on how this budget will affect the north in the coming weeks.
(With files from Joel Willick)
(PHOTO: Finance Minister Donna Harpaurer. Photo courtesy of Dan Jones.)